Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Trip to Fantasy Land - of transit that is...

This post is related to some thoughts that have been swimming around in my head that will hopefully move through my fingers to the computer for an upcoming post. I've been thinking a lot about reconciling the existing sprawl with better transit and how (or if) it could be done without creating a spaghetti bowl of a transit system.

I was thinking about a trip to Germany I had during high school as an exchange student. I was 16 and transit issues weren't all that important to me, so I don't have a lot to go on other than memory. One thing I do remember, however is not riding a big yellow school bus to school. I remember taking a bus/train to school, and a bus/train home from school. I wasn't exactly in a bustling metropolis either. I lived in a small village, and attended school in a nearby town of about 18,000 people named Bad Durkheim.

I remember being impressed, even at that age how easy the "commute" was and how amazingly efficient their operations were. We would pick up a bus in Niederkirchen and would take it to the train station in another village named Deidesheim. Once there, we would get off the bus, and literally, by the time we were able to walk to the platform, the train was pulling in. We would then take the train into Bad Durkheim, walk a few blocks and be at the school.

The ride home was similar, especially in its efficiency. We would leave the school, walk a few blocks to the station where the train was already waiting for us. After a few minutes, the train left, and we would take it back to Deidesheim, where as we would pull into the station, a bus would be pulling in to meet us.

What's the point of this little anecdotal trip down memory lane? This was not a heavily urbanized area, in fact, it was downright rural. Niederkirchen had no four lane roads, the train traveled on a single track line, and Bad Durkheim was the terminus of two seperate branch lines, that's all. Yet, the transit operations were so efficient that they acted as the school bus for an entire high school (sorry, it's been a few years and I forgot just about all my German, especially the equivalent of high school). I was amazed, day in and day out, how when we would pull into a station, a connecting form of transit was there to meet us.

I will grant you that America, and specifically Western Pennsylvania has much more sprawl and our ability to "cut and paste" a similar system to serve our sprawling suburbs and exurbs would probably not work. However, if nothing else we could use this model. Incorporate T.O.D. as a core along existing transit corridors to create more transit friendly and somewhat more densely packed suburbs instead of sprawling monsters that consume all our resources.

I better watch out, I may be branded as a "socialist" for wanting an effective, European style transit system.

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